Critical resources: Hospitals talk beds, nurse staffing amid COVID-19

Flags wave in the wind Monday, March 30, outside the main entrance to North Texas Medical Center. Officials at both NTMC and Muenster Memorial Hospital recently discussed how staffing factors into their preparedness for COVID-19.

As the new coronavirus spreads, Cooke County health care officials have been working out how to handle an influx of patients should an outbreak happen here.

North Texas Medical Center, 1900 Hospital Blvd., is staffed to handle 42 patients hospitalized at its 60-bed facility. However, hospital leadership says they have a plan in place should the need for additional beds arise.

“Our current inpatient bed capacity is 42,” a statement from NTMC CEO Tom Sledge says. “If a sudden onset of patients needing hospitalization materialized, our emergency preparedness plan is ready to be enacted.”

NTMC spokeswoman Kristi Rigsby said the health care facility in Gainesville “will call in additional staff to utilize all 60 beds” if needed.

She noted the hospital has six beds in its intensive care unit. Those beds, she said, are included in the bed count. She also said that they can double their ICU bed capacity “should we have a surge.”

Recently, Gov. Greg Abbott waived regulations to bring more nurses into the workforce in light of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. According to a news release posted on Abbott’s website, an advance practice registered nurse with a license that has been inactive for more than two years, but less than four years, will not have to pay a reactivation fee, complete continuing education credits or complete the current practice requirements. For APRNs with a license that has been inactive for more than four years, the reactivation fee and continuing education requirements will be waived.

Rigsby said NTMC has 90 nurses on staff and “could use at least 12 more nurses if we filled all FT shifts and some of the PRNs.” PRN is a medical term meaning those positions are scheduled as needed.

Rigsby did not break down how many of the nurses on staff were full time or PRN.

She also said the hospital was hiring nurses prior to COVID-19.

“We have resources for additional staffing, if the need arises due to COVID-19,” Rigsby said via an email interview with the Register. “We understand there is a lot of panic in the community. Our best advice is for everyone is to follow the guidelines set forth by the local health authorities and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].”

A fully functional triage tent has been set up at NTMC to use if and when patient volume increases to the point that “mere numbers are causing operational and safety concerns” for patients, visitors and staff, Rigsby previously told the Register. Should that happen, the emergency department waiting area will be closed and all triage operations will be moved to the tent, according to an archived Register report.

Muenster Memorial Hospital CEO Brian Roland said his facility at 605 N. Maple St. in Muenster has 20 beds and could add more if needed “if we can find the beds.” There are no ICU beds, he said.

He said the hospital has 17 full-time registered nurses, 12 more that are scheduled to work as needed, five full-time licensed vocational nurses and six more LVNs that work as needed.

Roland said hospital officials believe they have enough staff. Officials with the Muenster-based facility can pull from other areas of the hospital if needed. He also said that MMH has contracts with a couple of agencies should they require more staff at some point.

Roland said he hasn’t seen any “major volume swings” since Abbott waived some of the nursing restrictions.

He said the hospital’s No. 1 goal is to work with NTMC “when the wave hits” and be a resource to larger hospitals.

“I really think based on the situation we are doing everything in our power to meet the need once it arises, due to the fluidity and ever-changing nature we’re going to be best prepared as we can be,” Roland said. “Right now the focus is ensuring that we have the [personal protective equipment], the testing equipment and the plans in place how to utilize our staff as this nears.”

Follow the Gainesville Daily Register online for updates throughout the day as the situation surrounding the new coronavirus is developing.

Recommended for you